One of the stealthier battles in politics and philanthropy is about who gets to write history. Among other things, if you can hoist your favorite president or public figure onto a pedestal bathed in sunlight, it's a great way to sell the ideas they stood for long into the future.
The left has successfully done this with John F. Kennedy, and the right has been fighting for years to annoint Ronald Reagan in similar fashion, already scoring big by getting the Washington, D.C., airport named after the former president.
The battle to push Reagan's legacy has other fronts, too. A case in point: a $5 million gift to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation from Ben Sutton will promote the "ideals, vision, and leadership example of Ronald Reagan," with a big focus on working through schools and youth organizations.
An announcement from the foundation says that grant is earmarked exclusively for educating future generations about Ronald Reagan's exemplary life and will support "youth education and academic alliances, scholarly work, and substantive, issue-driven forums" that discuss the former President.
Naturally, we wonder just how fair and balanced all this discussion and research on Ronald Reagan is going to be. Will it include the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan's secret illegal mission to sell arms to the Ayatollah and funnel the money to Nicaraguan contra fighters? Will it include the PATCO air traffic controllers strike, which he broke by firing all the air traffic controllers? How about the time he commemorated the Nazi dead at a German cemetery?
Ben C. Sutton, Jr. is chairman and president of IMG College, a marketing company for collegiate sports. He is also on the board of trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Here's his take on why this gift is so important: "Ronald Reagan invested the largest part of his life to the cause of freedom," said Sutton. "It is our family's great honor to be able to support the development of the new Reagan Institute to perpetuate the proven and timeless ideals for which both President and Mrs. Reagan stand."
Mr. Sutton's $5 million gift will also provide funding for the Reagan Foundation's new Reagan Institute in Washington, D.C., covering the costs of offices and programmatic efforts.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation provides scholarships to young leaders. It also has a debate series with a winning $35,000 scholarship called the Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Debate Series. With the Draine Family Charitable Foundation, the foundation also supports a fellowship in public affairs at UCLA.
The Sutton family is known for their philanthropy, particularly for making the second-largest alumnus gift in the history of Wake Forest University to create the Sutton Health and Wellness Center, and for their support for construction of a new Youth Fellowship Center on the Knollwood Baptist Church campus in Winston-Salem. Previously, the family also funded the development of Sutton Softball Field at Forsyth Country Day School.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is thrilled with the Sutton's toast to her late husband. "Ronnie accomplished so much in his lifetime," she said in a recent interview. "But I know that even after we left the White House he felt there was always more to do. Ben's gift will help the foundation to take on some new important projects."
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation describes itself as "nonprofit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to promote the legacy of Ronald Reagan by convening, educating and engaging people around the world in his core principles of freedom, economic opportunity, global democracy and national pride." The foundation sustains the Presidential Library and Museum, the Center for Public Affairs, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center and the Air Force One Pavilion. Located in Simi Valley, California. The Library also serves as the final resting place of America's 40th president.